BRAINERD, MN — Erica Enders was cruising to s second straight NHRA championship the last time she passed through Brainerd International Raceway, winning her fifth of nine races in her dominating 2015 campaign at the annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.
This weekend, as she returns to Central Minnesota, things have changed quite a bit. The most successful woman in class history, Enders finds herself winless in 2016 and clinging to the 10th and final playoff berth with two races left in the regular season.
“Last year we were fighting for the No. 1 spot in the playoffs; now, we’re just hoping to make the playoffs,” Enders said. “It’s a crazy, humbling sport, but that’s why we love it so much. Nothing out here comes easy. It wasn’t easy when we won and it’s not easy when you have stretches like this, but these downtimes make the good times that much better.
“We made a lot of changes to our program joining up with Mopar, and they’ve been wonderful to work with. The NHRA also made its biggest changes to the class they’ve ever made (switching from carburetors to electronic fuel injection), and obviously some teams have adapted quicker than we have, but we’re not giving up. You can’t beat a team that never gives up.”
Enders remains optimistic because she knows the Elite Motorsports team working on her Dodge Dart is the same group that helped her to back-to-back championships and 15 national event victories over the past two seasons.
“Rick and Rickie Jones are still tuning my car, Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston are still building our motors, all the crew guys are the same, Richard Freeman (team owner) is still giving us all the tools we need to win; it’s just a matter of time,” Enders said. “It’s not easy at times because we got used to winning, but the guys up at the top right now have been through downtimes as well. It’s the same in every pro class.
“There are just lots of peaks and valleys in this sport. The thing is, you really discover what you’re made of when things are tough, and all I see with this team is that they will never quit. They’re just as relentless now as they were last year. The other day they were doing burnouts in the parking lot of the race shop working on our launches. They never stop.
“We’ve won Brainerd twice (2015 and 2012), and it would be great to get a third one this time through. It would certainly shock the world, but we’re pretty good at that.”
Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 1 and 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 9 to 11 p.m., Saturday, and eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in CT).